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Tiniest Linux COM yet?

May 29, 2014  |  Eric Brown
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[Updated May 30] — An open-spec COM that runs OpenWRT Linux on a MIPS-based Ralink RT5350 SoC has won its Indiegogo funding. The $20, IoT-focused “VoCore” measures 25 x 25mm.

How low can you go? Tiny computer-on-modules (COMs) for Internet of Things (IoT) applications are popping up everywhere, with recent, Linux-ready entries including Intel’s Atom or Quark-based Edison, Ingenic’s MIPS/Xburst-based Newton, Acme Systems’s ARM9/SAM9G25 based Arrietta G25, and SolidRun’s quad-core i.MX6-based MicroSOM. Now, an unnamed Chinese startup has raised over six times its $6,000 Indiegogo funding goal for what could be the smallest, cheapest Linux COM yet.



VoCore
(click image to enlarge)

At 25 x 25mm, or just under a square inch, the VoCore module beats out even the 39 x 22mm Newton. It sells for $20, or $40 to $45 with a dock that extends the Ethernet and USB interfaces. The VoCore is expected to ship in October with full schematics and source code.

The VoCore is a fully functional, 2.4GHz WiFi router, and it can also act as a general purpose low-power (about 200 to 220mA) COM for IoT applications. Potential projects are said to include adding WiFi to USB-enabled devices such as printers, scanners, storage devices, or cameras, as well as Arduino gizmos. According to the developers, it can also drive a remote control robot with camera, or form the basis for a portable VPN router, home automation device, wireless speaker, or offline downloader.

The VoCore runs OpenWRT Linux on a Ralink RT5350 system-on-chip, or “router-on-a-chip,” as Ralink calls it. In addition to providing a 360MHz MIPS 24K core, it integrates a 802.11n MAC, baseband, radio, and FEM, as well as a 5-port 10/100Mbps Ethernet switch.



VoCore solo (left) and with dock (right)

The VoCore ships with 32MB SDRAM, 8MB SPI flash, and pin headers for a variety of I/O. Interfaces include 10/100Mbps Ethernet, USB, UART, I2C, I2S, PCM, JTAG, and over 20 GPIOs. A small dock with a real-world Ethernet port and USB port creates a simple, unsheathed mini-PC measuring less than 25mm square. The dock costs $20 extra for the DIY version, or $25 extra fully-assembled with the VoCore ($45 total).


VoCore with dock
(click image to enlarge)

The VoCore can run on an Li-Ion battery at 3.7V to 4.3V, and supports an input voltage range of 3.3V to 6.0V. It can thereby draw power via USB, Li-Ion battery, or “even four 1.2V AA batteries,” according to the developers.


VoCore schematic
(click image to enlarge)

On the Indiegogo site and Vonger.cn blog site, chief developer Qin Wei amusingly records the many trials and tribulations of building an embedded device, including an initial run of PCBs with non-functioning WiFi. In the end, however, all this hard work was rewarded by Indiegogo funders who provided a “miracle” by matching and far exceeding the funding goal, writes Wei.

The lightweight, networking focused OpenWRT Linux has been around a decade now. It was designed to support the hackable Linksys WRT54G router, and soon spread to other devices like the Meraki mesh router. With the recent focus on low-power IoT devices, OpenWRT has had a bit of a comeback. As part of the new Prpl project from Imagination Technologies, which aims to standardize open source code around MIPS, Prpl member Qualcomm will be developing a carrier-grade version of OpenWRT. The distribution will be optimized for MIPS platforms like Qualcomm’s Atheros line of similar router-on-a-chip SoCs.

 
Further information

Indiegogo funding for the VoCore will extend through July 19. Packages are currently available for $20, as well as another $20 for the dock, or $45 total with a VoCore and dock fully assembled. You can buy three VoCore modules for $56 or five for $92, among other discounted bundles. Shipments are due in October. More information may be found at the VoCore Indiegogo page and the Vonger.cn blog site.

Interestingly, after we published this post a reader pointed us to another, very similar Indiegogo campaign for a slightly larger (25 x 35mm) COM based on the same Ralink RT5350 SoC, but clocked at 380MHz. AsiaRF’s Indiegogo campaign for a “Tiny Linux Computer with WiFi and Ethernet,” which has a June 27 deadline, is currently sitting at 10 percent of a $60,000 goal.
 

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PLEASE COMMENT BELOW

One Response to “Tiniest Linux COM yet?”

  1. Alex says:

    I’m in for one with a DIY dock. It looks like a cool device, and I’ve never played with MIPS before so I’m excited to try it.

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